Half the Teachers

A few days ago, I posted an article explaining “Why You Won’t See Me at ISTE ’14.”  In it I wrote,

I blame and accept the fact that experience that spans from TRS-80 to IOS has become a little less important compared to the creative energy of much younger educators…

This sentiment prompted an email exchange with an old friend, an educator whose years of experience span pretty much the same range of technological advancement as mine, “TRS-80 to iOS.”

Our discussion, however, had almost nothing to do with technology, but concerned the era in which we began teaching.

For me, it was a full 25 years before No Child Left Behind  standards-based teaching and punitive high-stakes tests stained the “art of teaching.”  Things were quite different in terms of the autonomy that teachers exercised in determining what and how their children learned – and some mediocre teachers, admittedly, took advantage of the freedom.  However, most, whom I came in contact with, used their academic freedom as a seedbed to create dynamic and effective learning experiences for their students.

For years I have felt that this-too-will-pass, that the arrogant belief that we can know and teach everything our children will need to know to be prepared for their future simply makes no sense, and that we would come to our senses.

Half of Teachers

But it occurred to me, during that email exchange, that more and more of the teachers in our classrooms today were trained to test-prep and have been indoctrinated to an education system based, more than ever before, on an industrial production model.

So I did some research and tinkering with a spreadsheet, and found that about half of the teachers in U.S. classrooms today have never worked in a school culture free from high-stakes testing.

To illustrate this, I made an infographic  that shows the decline in teachers who have experienced academic freedom and the rise in teachers who have always worked under the constraints of government/corporate standards.

To be sure, this does not mean that there aren’t young educators, today, who are courageously and creatively going beyond the regimentation that is the character of test-prep classes, nor that there aren’t older teachers who are happy to model their classrooms on mass production.  

But it does suggest a dramatic shift in the culture of our schools,

And perhaps,

An approaching point of no return.

About the Data:
I used a document from the National Center for Education Statistics  a part of the U.S. Department of Education (see below).  It featured demographic data about U.S. teachers, starting in 1987.  The table included gender, ethnicity, age, education, years of experience, and teaching levels and subjects.  I fairly easily imported the table into an OpenOffice spreadsheet and cropped it down to just the data on years of experience, starting with 1999.

To complicate things, the table included only data for every 4th year, 1999, 2003, 2007, and 2011, which was not enough to plot the level of accuracy that I wanted.  In addition, the years experience were grouped, i.e. less than 3 years, 3 to 9 years, etc.  I searched further, but could not find any more complete data at the national level.  If you know of such a document, please comment below.

To fill in the blank years, I worked my OO spreadsheet so that it calculated trends from the 4 years and the experience ranges, and filled in the blanks, across and down, based on those trends.  Not a perfect solution, but the point of my infographic was to illustrate a trend, not precisely measure a phenomena.

Having such a seemingly rich data set enticed me to plot for other trends and anomalies, such as specific rises or declines in teacher numbers, indicating times of sudden influx of new teachers, or increased retirements or, and I hate to suggest the possibility, mass resignations.  Alas, it would take more completely accurate information to do such a thing, not just calculated trends.

Number and percentage distribution of teachers in public and private elementary and secondary schools, by selected teacher characteristics: Selected years, 1987-88 through 2011-12. (n.d.). Digest of Education Statistics. Retrieved April 19, 2014, from http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d13/tables/dt13_209.10.asp 

 

 

 

Obama’s Mistake…

BottomLine

Technology should be invisible. It is the pencil and paper of our time. But until every learner and teacher-learner has sufficient and equitable access to appropriate information and communication technologies, we should enthusiastically continue to make the “T” word an explicit and high-volume part of all of our planning.

Washington Post blogger, Valerie Strauss, has invited faculty members of Columbia University Teachers College to guest blog about President Obama’s Blueprint for rewriting the No Child Left Behind law. Yesterday’s contributor was Ellen Meier, professor of computing and education and co-director of the college’s Center for Technology and School Change.

In here piece, Obama’s mistake with technology in ed reform, Dr. Meier opposes the apparent devaluing of technology as a catalyst for change.  She hones in on the document’s relegation of technology to a position of support mechanism and an element of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) theme.  She writes,

The blueprint effectively consigns technology to a subordinate role in reform, rather than recognizing it as a fundamental requirement for new millennium teaching and learning. By consolidating technology funding, it effectively silences the voices of innovative educators interested in using technology to leverage effective, imaginative approaches to schooling.

I agree with Meier’s statements and I get the same impressions from the document, which seems to address tech from a “business as usual” perspective. However, this is all part of an ongoing struggle in the ed-tech community between treating information and communication technologies (ICT) as a separate element in the endeavor of education or infusing it into the framework of teaching and learning — integrating the technology and therefore, making it invisible.

A while back, I wrote about a conversation I was part of in Austin about the prospects of the state’s elimination of a required technology class (What Difference Might One “S” Make?). With the dedicated and state-mandated class, tech gains importance and prestige — not to mention funding. But technology instruction, which carries specific accountability measures, becomes too strictly defined and separated from the rest of the school. Without the technology class, schools become more free to specialize, adapt, innovate, and truly integrate, but they lose the authority and funding to do so.

I do not believe that Dr. Meier is advocating either position to the exclusion of the other. None of us are. We are simply finding the language that describes ICT as a critical component of the education formula in a way that empowers success, provokes innovation, and is relevant to the contexts of teaching and learning in the 21st century.

Meier makes an especially compelling argument about the need for assured technology expertise in our schools and districts, people who are following trends, aware of emerging tech, and qualified to innovate by utilizing appropriate new technologies.  I was especially excited by her statement that the Blueprint’s approach…

..is more likely to result in “technologizing” the status quo —integrating technology into existing practices – rather than using technology to create engaging new learning environments.

A Word Tree
(Click image to enlarge
or click
here to launch the visualization)

Taking a closer and more quantitative look at the document I used IBM’s Many Eyes tool-set to visualize the place the tech plays in the Blueprint. I started, of course, with a word cloud, in which technology just barely shows up out of the top 150 re-occuring words in the document.  But this, in and of itself means almost nothing.  As the Many Eyes site says, “It (the tool) was designed to give pleasure, and not to provide reliable analytic insight.”

However, we get a clearer look by running a Word Tree (see left) revealing that technology is used 14 times in the document.

  • Five times it is listed along with STEM subjects.  Two of the listings are presented in a way that, to me, imply a continuum subjects, placing history, civics, foreign languages, the arts, financial literacy, and “other subjects” at the less important end — or at least separating STEM out from other subjects.
  • Nine times it is listed as a way to improve instruction, address student learning challenges, and accomplish the goals of the grant.

But even its poor showing in the word race shouldn’t, alone, be cause for concern.  After all, “technology should be invisible,” RIGHT? (“technology should be invisible” shows up in 2,700 Google-indexed web pages).

There are three objections that I have to where the blue print is taking us.

  1. The One size fits all approach the our promotion of the STEM subjects seems to ignore completely that even though we do need more youngsters pursuing a science, technology, or mathematics field, not everyone needs to, and we will continue to need smart and creative people pursuing the “other subjects.”  When people are complaining about TV, they are not usually complaining about the picture size or quality.  What they want is better stories.  Engineering is easy.  Telling a better and more compelling story is hard.
  2. In the first paragraph, Ellen Meier describes technology as “a catalyst for all educational reform efforts for the 21st century.”  On my first reading, I thought that this statement was a bit over-reaching.  But now that I think about it, she is right.  Globalization, economic transition, brand new industries and industries in decline… all of these bellwethers of change owe themselves to advances in information and communication technologies.  In addition, because of technology, information has changed in:
    • What it looks like,
    • What we look at to view it,
    • Where we go to find it,
    • How we find it,
    • What we can do with it, and
    • How we communicate it
  3. Because information is now networked, digital, and abundant, what it means to be literate has changed and so too has the meaning and method of lifelong learning.

Technology should be invisible.  It is the pencil and paper of our time.  But until every learner and teacher-learner has sufficient and equitable access to appropriate information and communication technologies, we should enthusiastically continue to make the “T” word an explicit and high-volumn part of all of our planning.

The World has become A Lot More Interesting

It’s not a scoreboard that’s going to keep us prosperous and fulfilled.

It’s working to make our children into the people they need to be,
to carry us into a future we can’t even see,
people who will invent that future…

A while back, I did a little work with the Wake Education Partnership, for whom I delivered a 43 minute keynote for their members, including executives from IBM, SAS, RCB, a full dozen area chambers of commerce, etc. — I was in high cotton that day.

Their work is flowing through a document developed by a members committee, Suspending Disbelief (pdf) — and this is one of the best descriptions of new schools and new schooling that I have ever seen coming from a group that was mostly non-educators.

However, there is one assumption that is central to this document and much of the current flurry of ed reform rhetoric with which I do not agree.  It is the belief that we are engaged in an endeavor of competition, global competition, producing a competitive workforce.

I wonder if it is coming from people who are in the habit of counting things.  They count their sales, their circulation, their votes — and these are all very important things to count.  But our world is changing in some pretty dramatic ways, and much of that change can’t be measured or predicted.  The very rules are changing.

The political changes have probably not been better understood and utilized than by Barrack Obama and his astonishing movement for change.  Yet, it is the Obama administration, his Department of Education, that seems more intent on measuring, on racing to the top, than any before it.

I would love to see a study that determines if test scores would have predicted the extraordinary accomplishments of the creative, resourceful, dedicated, and relentless women and men who ushered in the digital revolution.  Were they all high achievers in their schools.  I would suspect that many of them were the guy in the next row, who often didn’t complete his homework, because he simply found something more interesting to spend his time on.

I do not believe that we should be working to make sure that our students know more than students in China and India.  It’s ridiculous when we consider that much of what they are taught, in a time of rapid change, will be obsolete by the time they enter their adult lives.

Today, it is not important to measure what our children can be taught.  In stead, we should figure out how to measure what they can gain through their growing skills of learning, curiosity, resourcefulness, and caring — and what they can do with what they’ve learned.

The world has become more cooperative, not competitive.  The world has become a lot more interesting…

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